//Inquiry ordered into artifice at Amarnath shrine

Inquiry ordered into artifice at Amarnath shrine

Thu Jun 29, 2006

SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Authorities in Kashmir ordered an investigation on Thursday into the creation of a stalagmite after pilgrims who consider it a symbol of a Hindu god said they were outraged by the artifice.

Pilgrims discovered the artificial stalagmite when the hugely popular annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine began this month.

Authorities in charge of the shrine said they created the phallus-shaped stalagmite — regarded as a symbol of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction — so that devotees were not disappointed after it failed to form naturally.

"The governor has ordered a judicial probe into allegations of tampering with the lingam," a government statement said, referring to the stalagmite.

Officials said more than 138,000 pilgrims had visited the shrine over the last 18 days. Last year, a record 400,000 pilgrims visited the shrine, located at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,700 feet).

The pilgrimage has been targeted several times in the past by Islamist militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people so far.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.